Friday, 29 April 2011


Jonathan's Token to David
ARTIST: Lord Frederick Leighton
OWNER: Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Many gay men believe that Jonathan and David were same sex lovers, based on the way God presents their story in scripture and based on the Hebrew words used to describe their relationship.

Some gay men and many non gays disagree, insisting that the florid language and men kissing men is typical Middle Eastern behaviour, and in no way indicates a homosexual relationship.

Non gays allege that the Bible strictly forbids all homosexual activity therefore Jonathan and David could not be gay. The reasoning is that if they were gay lovers, God would not laud their partnership in such positive fashion.
Gay Christian 101

It’s a simple enough story, the tale of David and Jonathan, yet a debate arises, as to whether the two guys were simply friends, or whether they were lovers. It’s a pretty intense relationship, whatever way you look at it. I loved the story when I was a child, these two handsome, noble men, swearing undying love for one another, despite the disapproval of Jonathan’s father, Saul.

I didn’t understand, as a child what it is that Saul is objecting to. I thought he was just jealous. Now, I do understand and I think when Saul loses it and throws a spear at Jonathan his son, well, it suddenly becomes clear.

In the King James Bible 1769. I Samuel. Chapter 20. V.30 we are told;

“Then Saul’s anger was kindled against Jonathan, and he said unto him, Thou son of the perverse rebellious woman, do I not know that thou hast chosen the son of Jesse (David) to thine own confusion, and unto the confusion of thy mother’s nakedness?”

The reference to the nakedness of one's parents is one of the methods used in the Bible to refer to a sexual relationship.  Jonathan had chosen David as his lover. 

Here is a 1976 translation of the same passage in the “Good News Bible.

“Saul was furious with Jonathan and said to him, “how rebellious and faithless your mother was! Now I know that you are taking sides with David and are disgracing yourself and that mother of yours!”

It takes away the impact, doesn’t it?

This passage in the Good News Bible, is diluted to the extent you wonder if the translator is talking about the same event. Is the translator trying to manipulate the idea away from physical love, turning what can be seen as a clear case of the passion shared by David and Jonathan in the 1769 translation? He turns the relationship into something watery. They were friends and that is that. And if that is so, what is there for Saul to object to? Is he simply throwing a hissy fit, because Jonathan has misplaced loyalties?

The Good News translation, changes the point of view; here, Saul seems simply piqued, as opposed to livid.

Saul’s anger is reflective of the vile passage in Leviticus, outlying correct behaviour.

In the King James version, Leviticus 18.22 is translated. “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.”

All of the various translations agree with that sentiment.

But there is definitely something going on here that makes the later translators uncomfortable. This passage in 1 Samuel. Chapter 18 v1 of the King James Bible 1769 tells us;

“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul.”

And it continues in v4. “And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was upon him, and gave it to David, and his garments, even to his sword, and to his bow, and to his girdle.”

The extract is highly erotic. It could be interpreted that Jonathan is not only disrobing, but is turning the symbols of his manhood over to David. 

This clarifies Saul's problem.  One of the most important duties of being a king was producing an heir.  Obviously, Jonathan had no intention of producing an heir, and therefore could not provide the final step needed to make good his claim to the kingship.  He loved David and only David.

The same passage in the Good News Bible 1992, is translated thus;

 “Saul and David finished their conversation. After that, Saul's son Jonathan was deeply attracted to David and came to love him as much as he loved himself.” 1992 Good News Bible

There we go again, they were just good friends.

“And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.” - 1769 King James Bible.

And in the Good News Bible.

“Once again Jonathan made David promise to love him, for Jonathan loved David as much as he loved himself.”

In 1 Samuel. Chapter 20.v42 the King James Bible says;

“David arose out of a place toward the south, and fell on his face to the ground, and bowed himself three times: and they kissed one another, and wept one with another, until David exceeded.
 And Jonathan said to David, Go in peace, forasmuch as we have sworn both of us in the name of the LORD, saying, The LORD be between me and thee, and between my seed and thy seed for ever. And he arose and departed: and Jonathan went into the city.”

Here is the same part of the narrative in the Good News Bible.

“ David got up from behind the pile of stones, fell on his knees and bowed with his face to the ground three times. Both he and Jonathan were crying as they kissed each other; David's grief was even greater than Jonathan's. Then Jonathan said to David, 
         God be with you. The Lord will make sure that you and I, and your descendants and mine, will forever keep the sacred promise we have made to each other. Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.”

As Saul continues to pursue David, the pair renew their covenant, after which they do not meet again. Eventually Saul and David reconcile. Jonathan, however, is slain on Mt. Gilboa along with his two brothers Abinadab and Malchi-shua, and there Saul commits suicide. David learns of Saul and Jonathan's death and chants a lament, which in part says:

Saul and Jonathan, beloved and pleasant in their life, And in their death they were not parted; They were swifter than eagles, They were stronger than lions... "How have the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan is slain on your high places. "I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; You have been very pleasant to me. Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women. "How have the mighty fallen, And the weapons of war perished!"
2 Samuel. Chapter 1. V25 -27 New American Standard Bible.

David’s lament comes right out with it; “Your love to me was more wonderful Than the love of women.”

“The traditional and mainstream religious interpretation of the relationship has been one of platonic love and an example of homosociality. Some later Medieval and Renaissance literature drew upon the story to underline strong personal friendships between men, some of which involved romantic love. In modern times, some scholars, writers, as well as activists have emphasized what they interpret as elements of homoeroticism (chaste or otherwise) in the story. WIKI

“But some modern scholars and writers have interpreted the love between David and Jonathan as more intimate than platonic friendship. This interpretation views the bonds the men shared as romantic love, regardless of whether or not the relationship was physically consummated. Jonathan and David cared deeply about each other in a way that was arguably more tender and intimate than a platonic friendship.

David's praise in 2 Samuel 1:26 for Jonathan's 'love' (for him) over the 'love' of women is considered evidence for same-sex attraction, along with Saul's exclamation to his son at the dinner table, "I know you have chosen the son of Jesse - which is a disgrace to yourself and the nakedness of your mother!" The "choosing" (bahar) may indicate a permanent choice and firm relationship, and the mention of "nakedness" (erwa) could be interpreted to convey a negative sexual nuance, giving the impression that Saul saw something indecent in Jonathan's and David's relationship.

Some also point out that the relationship between the two men is addressed with the same words and emphasis as other love relationships in the Hebrew Testament, whether heterosexual or between God and people: 

When they are alone together, David confides that he has "found grace in Jonathan's eyes", a phrase, proponents say, normally refers to romantic or physical attraction. Throughout the passages, David and Jonathan consistently affirm and reaffirm their love and devotion to each other, and Jonathan is willing to betray his father, family, wealth, and traditions for David.” WIKI

The debate often surfaces. It is surprising to me that the case of David and Jonathan is so little discussed. Whenever there is a heated discussion about whether or not God loves homosexuals, the passage from Leviticus Chapter 18. v 22 is always quoted. With Leviticus, the language has simply been brought up to date. The contemporary ear can be in no doubt about what is heard, just as the people did who heard the message long ago.

“No man is to have sexual relations with another man. God hates that.” The Good News Bible

Here’s a reminder of what it says in the King James Bible.

“Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination.”

Whether it’s “hate” or “abomination” the sentiment hasn’t changed.

Concerning David and Jonathan, it seems to me that the translators of the Bible have a lot to answer for. The sentiment has definitely changed.

“We do not control language, it controls us.” I’ve used that quote from Jacques Lacan before. We mess with words, and they have a way of biting us in the foot, or any other extremity. How ironic it would be if language were to have the opposite effect to the effect that the Biblical Scholars were intending.

There’s an opportunity with David and Jonathan’s narrative to see homosexuality in a positive light. But that can’t be allowed to happen.

It is almost as if a slow realisation dawns, as the centuries pass, of what is really going on here. The Bible, which many believe is God’s word, is telling us that David and Jonathan were lovers. Really? They had sex!! Gosh! When guys get naked together -- stuff happens! The translators don’t exactly change the narrative, they turn it into something different, they make it uninteresting, and in doing so, they take away its power.

What is it that the Biblical authorities of all denominations are so afraid of? Perhaps because David and Jonathan’s narrative gives gay men, particularly, young gay men a positive role model. There is no way that the authorities want to lose their power. The power to condemn. The story gives young gay men the awareness, and a power to stop feeling fear, guilt and shame, because of their sexual orientation.

And that would never do. The Biblical translators, really are a piece of work and they want gay men filled with self loathing and repelled by their desires. They want them contrite and eager to be reconciled to Biblical teachings. They can be redeemed by obeying God’s word in Leviticus.

I think that the thought processes must have gone something like this.

Something has to be done -- after all David became a powerful King of Israel. The Bible tells us of how much God loved David. Jesus was David’s descendant. Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph, was of the House of David. There is no way that the authorities can hear it said that Jesus was descended from a homosexual/bisexual. So the translators water the language down. The words lose their impact. The language used, really has taken away the story’s power. And in doing that, they have taken away the essence, the heart of the story too. The beautiful, and yes, erotically charged, love story of David and Jonathan has lost its poetry.

I wish that I could read David and Jonathan’s story in the original Hebrew. I think that must be the language it was written in. Or would it have been an even more ancient language; Sumerian perhaps?

I have a feeling that my emotions would take me over. I would tremble and weep.

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